We just got back from spring break, which means many different things to different people.
But let’s talk about me. I went to Spain. I wandered lots of nameless streets and drank lots of labelless wine. I chit-chatted with German housewives in Sevillan hostels. But most of all, I observed firsthand a centerpiece of many college educations: The Semester Abroad.
To be sure, a semester abroad means a wide array of things. There’s the sink-or-swim homestay, from which people — even some of my best friends — have emerged singing French, Italian or Mandarin like the proverbial nightingale. There’s the hardcore direct enrollment in a foreign university, in which students study alongside (pre-meds, read: against) the native speakers.
But as my suitemates and I wandered the barrios and bars of Madrid, Seville and Cordoba, we often encountered a different breed of American student abroad entirely. Amazingly often aligned with Tulane University, these students lived out la bella vida in the best of all worlds. They basked in the less-rigorous academic standards of study abroad programs, yet avoided the annoying need to capitulate to “local customs.” They didn’t suffer through “authentic experiences” in place of good American ones. After all, we’re number one.
The international symbol of the Tulane-tourist was the cell phone. Lest any of these hyper-connected foreign-experience mavens be unreachable, even for un minuto, the familiar strains of electronic “Fur Elise” or “The Entertainer” were there to remind them — and everyone within 30 meters — that “getting away from it all” is passe.
But why just talk to other Americans, when you can hang out them too? One night in Seville, my suitemate Corey and I happened upon a gathering of students from an amazingly diverse set of backgrounds. There was Corey’s friend from eight years of summer camp in New Hampshire. There was a guy from Ohio who is my high school chemistry teacher’s cousin. There were several exponentially New Yorkish New Yorkers. What didn’t our merry bunch have? Answer: Spaniards. Oh well.
This Tulane-tourist trend is an American college student’s godsend. It’s long been true that any time we crave a hamburger — be it in Brasilia or Berlin — we can head to the local McDonald’s, where everyone knows Ronald’s name. There’s a bit of local variation — the famed “Royale with Cheese in France or the “McViking” in Sweden — but the burger, foot-and-mouth notwithstanding, remains the same. The same goes for Britney Spears, Levi Strauss and Jerry Springer.
But now, Yankees abroad no longer have to limit their Americana fixes to food and culture. With the swarms of students making the study abroad leap, they can find cheery, transplanted bubbles of fellow Michiganians or Tulanians within their very own Spanish city.
Still, even the most amenably Americanized city has the occasional nuisances of non-English-speaking cab drivers, pay toilets and the like. And this is where the wizards of Floridian theme park conceptualization have determined an even better alternative. The newly opened “Holy Land Experience” theme park brings visitors a replica of Old City Jerusalem, all without leaving the comforts of metro Orlando.
In many ways, the $16 million “Experience” is even better than the real thing. Does present-day Tel Aviv sell Goliath burgers? I think not. The Royale with Cheese suddenly gets a run for its money.
Furthermore, the Holy Land is ripe to “experience” in manageable one-day doses. You can check out the singing Roman soldiers, buy your commemorative shofar and be back in time to catch the firework show at nearby Disneyland. No political unrest here either.
My message to my fellow collegians, then, is that the state of our international prospects is strong. Whether we make the actual flight overseas or participate in simulated travel in Mickey Mouse’s backyard, we no longer have to endure the outdated notion of “authentic experience.” Sure, there are still some traditionalists out there who would have you forcing out a few Spanish sentences to a host brother and choking down a few bites of enigmatic local stew. They’d even have you paying for toilets.
Pay no heed. When in Rome, get your photo of you in the Sistine chapel, dial up the local Tulane contingent on your cell phone and head out for some real glory days at Mickey D’s.
Frances Brown is a junior in Branford College. Her columns appear on alternate Mondays.